By Wayne Hartley, Manatee Specialist
Save the Manatee Club

Amber the manatee and her calf.
Amber and her calf in 2017 at Blue Spring State Park.

On February 17, 2020, we were notified that a dead manatee had been towed into Holly Bluff Marina about four miles north of Blue Spring State Park the previous day. With the morning count over, the Save the Manatee Club (SMC) researchers went to Holly Bluff and ID’d the large dead female as Amber, BS286. Amber was last seen alive and well in the spring run on February 15th.

Ann, BS189, brought the twins Amanda, BS287, and Amber into Blue Spring run on March 5, 2001. It caused great excitement as Ann had been in on February 20th and 21st with no calves. The birth year of the twins is often given as 2000 as they were born in the 2000-2001 Manatee Season. Some thought was given to naming them Thelma and Louise to echo the movie, but it was decided not. At some point, probably on March 11th, Ann called the twins to go out in the river so Ann could feed. When Amanda came, Ann left with her, leaving Amber alone. Sometimes manatee mothers seem to have a problem counting past one.

I was informed a calf was alone in the run on March 12th when I did not do a count. On March 13th I found Amber was the lone calf in the run. I called Sirenia Project to consult, and they reached out to SeaWorld Orlando. Amber was wandering the run as if searching for Ann and trying to nurse on any manatee that came in. A female, Phalcon, was willing but being only one year old herself, she gave no satisfaction. With it so warm we did not expect Ann to return, so a capture was called for.

SeaWorld came out on March 14th, and Robert Wagner, a member of the rescue team, went down the bank with a butterfly net. It kept snagging in tree limbs, so Bob finally tossed it aside, picked up Amber in his arms, and carried her up the steep bank to the truck. He was our hero! When Amber got to SeaWorld, she rushed to Destiny, BS99, a female manatee in rehabilitation,and began to nurse. Destiny was in SeaWorld with problems of her own. This cross nursing interested the SeaWorld folks, but we saw it all the time at Blue Spring. Ann and Amanda returned on March 18th, but it was considered Amber was better off where she was. Reunited with her mother and sister, she might be subject to abandonment again.

Amber had to age and grow to release size (usually around 600 pounds) and during that time she was exposed to a papilloma virus. Until the virus could be confirmed in the wild, no manatees exposed to it could be released. The virus was confirmed in the wild, and Amber was released to Blue Spring on February 26, 2009. Amber was noted to be pregnant on December 10th of the same year. Sadly, the pregnancy resulted in a stillbirth in the boil at Blue Spring. Amber has gone on to have calves in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017. Amber even seems to have adopted a calf in 2018. She liked to have her calves in or near the park and brought them in often. Amber was also pregnant with a female fetus at the time of her death.

The cause of Amber’s death could not be determined.